Jacinda Ardern wants stronger hate-speech protections

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 24 Sep 2020, 7:25PM
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)
Jacinda Ardern. (Photo / NZ Herald)

Jacinda Ardern wants stronger hate-speech protections

Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 24 Sep 2020, 7:25PM

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern wants to make it illegal to discriminate on the grounds of someone's religion as well as possibly sexual orientation or disability.

Her commitment follows a visit to Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch yesterday where Imam Gamal Fouda made an impassioned plea for stronger political leadership around hate speech laws.

The Government has been reviewing hate speech in the aftermath of the March 15 attacks, and NZ First is thought to be why nothing has changed.

Ardern didn't specifically say NZ First was the reason for no progress.

"I don't think there should be," she said when asked if there had been resistance from NZ First.

"New Zealanders, I don't believe - and I've seen time again - reject any idea that anyone should be discriminated against for who they are, their religion, their cultural or ethnic background.

"It's just not okay. I would have thought we'd have wide support for that."

Currently the hate speech laws in New Zealand make it illegal to "excite hostility against or bring into contempt any group of persons ... on the ground of the colour, race, or ethnic or national origins".

But that protection doesn't extend to gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability.

"I think everyone would agree no one should be discriminated against for their religion," Ardern said.

Asked about sexual orientation, disability or age as well, Ardern said: "That [religion] is not the only area identified where we don't have complete legislation. That is something that needs to be resolved, too."

The Greens also support stronger hate speech laws, but Act leader David Seymour has consistently pushed back on any such suggestion because of freedom of speech principles.

Seymour called Ardern's comments "deeply concerning".

"Hate speech laws are divisive and dangerous, turning debate into a popularity contest where the majority can silence unpopular views using the power of the state.

"Threatening others or inciting violence should be illegal, but tests as subjective as 'offensive' or 'insulting' should never be used to prosecute offences."

During Ardern's visit to Al Noor Mosque yesterday, Imam Gamal Fouda asked for people to continue to embody the compassionate response to March 15.

It was the "darkest of days" that had left "a scar on our hearts", and he called for a memorial day in Christchurch every year to honour the harmony of the response.

"I don't want that to be forgotten."

Ardern said she was confident there would be a memorial day that the local council, local iwi and the Muslim community would be happy with.

"One of the proposals that has been brought forward by the community is for a day that acknowledges and celebrates the inclusivity and diversity of New Zealand."

Ardern spent a walkabout and an appearance at the Rāwhiti Domain Canopy trying to maintain social distancing amid crowds scrambling for hugs, handshakes and selfies.

She rebuffed many handshakes for an elbow bump, but did partake in one hug outside Al Noor Mosque.

She has asked Aucklanders to take level 2 with them when they leave the city, but that has not been specifically asked of people who visit Auckland and then leave.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern accepting a hug outside Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo / Logan Church

Ardern said she was taking precautions, having been in Auckland for Tuesday's leaders' debate.

That included washing hands, not doing political rallies, and staying away from campaigning if unwell.

"I try very hard not to shake hands ... you can see the efforts I make on the [campaign] trial. You can also see it's not always easy.

"But again I am in a level 1 environment so everyone else of course doesn't have that expectation."

On Monday, Ardern admitted she "made a mistake" when she took a selfie with a group of supporters in Palmerston North. No one in the group was wearing a face mask or practising social distancing.